Americans Elect, a 501c4 corporation working to arrange the election of its own presidential ticket in 2012, has rolled out its publicity campaign today with a piece written by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman wrote his column after being invited by Americans Elect to tour “its swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.”
That’s a curious turn of phrase, considering the point-blank declaration this month by Americans Elect that “None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.”
The definition of a special interest, according to Merriam-Webster, is a person or organization seeking gain through specific economic activity and standing to gain or lose depending on the shape of action taken by the government. Hedge fund investors and managers are market insiders who make money off of aggressive, high-risk investments. Government regulation of hedge funds has been a significant point of contention in recent years, making hedge fund managers and investors part of a special interest group.
Indeed, concerns regarding the regulation of hedge funds almost perfectly bookend the creation and roll-out of Americans Elect. In July of 2010, as the old Unity08 finished its corporate reorganization through the Unity12 Task Force into the new Americans Elect corporation, the Dodd-Frank Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, introducing a new array of regulations of hedge fund activities. In July of 2011, as Americans Elect begins its public roll-out, government agencies, hedge fund managers, banks and investor groups are clashing over the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act, especially rules that allow banks to get into the hedge fund business.
When it comes to Thomas Friedman’s report that Americans Elect is “financed with some serious hedge-fund money,” there are two possibilities:
Possibility 1: Despite having a gig with the New York Times and going to interview Americans Elect in “its swank offices,” Thomas Friedman doesn’t know what he’s talking about here. This isn’t inconceivable: Friedman refers to Kahlil Byrd as “the C.E.O. of Americans Elect,” but current corporate documents show Byrd is actually the Vice Chairman and Treasurer while billionaire Peter Ackerman is Chairman. Americans Elect corporate bylaws specify that “The Chairman shall serve as the chief executive officer of Americans Elect.”
Possibility 2: Americans Elect really is awash with special-interest hedge fund money. Some other evidence pointing in this direction has already emerged. In a fawning promotional piece this weekend for the Daily Beast, No Labels co-founder John Avlon drops a useful statistic: that Americans Elect has raised $20 million from just 50 people, a whopping average contribution of $400,000 per person. Not just anybody can write a check for 400 grand; these are 50 mostly anonymous people to whom Americans Elect owes a big debt of gratitude. We know from other documents that two private investment executives have made donations to Americans Elect: Rockport Capital chief Peter Ackerman to the tune of $1.55 million and hedge fund operator Kirk Rostron in an undisclosed amount. Incomplete documentation of a “giving stream” to Americans Elect also names Melvin Andrews of Los Angeles as a contributor. Melvin Andrews of Los Angeles is the President of Lakeside Capital Partners. Outside of the capital investment business, but definitely in the realm of a “special interest,” is the donation to Americans Elect by Jim Holbrook, Chairman of the Promotion Marketing Association.
So let’s ask Americans Elect about this. Admittedly, Americans Elect’s track record in answering questions isn’t that hot: I’ve been reaching out to the group, asking various questions and trying to make contact with it for nearly a year now and have never gotten any communication in reply. But by gum, I’ll keep trying. I’ve posed the following question to Americans Elect today through its online contact form, through the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org, and by a phone call to the newly disclosed media contact number of Americans Elect at 541-WE-ELECT/541-933-5328 (no live person answered the call, but I did leave a message after a recording promised that “we will get back to you as soon as possible”). If I receive an answer to my question, I’ll post it in the comments section for you to read. If you don’t see an answer from Americans Elect in the comments section, it’s because Americans Elect hasn’t given me an answer.
Question: Americans Elect declares that "none of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists." But in his Sunday New York Times profile of Americans Elect, columnist Thomas Friedman describes "swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House." Given recent special interest advocacy of hedge fund operators regarding the Dodd-Frank Act, these two statements appear to be inconsistent. Is Thomas Friedman's statement regarding hedge fund contributions to Americans Elect inaccurate? Or has Americans Elect been accepting money from the operators of hedge funds?
I’ll share any answer I get in the comments section below. If you don’t see any answer from Americans Elect in the comments section for this article, you’ll know that Americans Elect never got back in touch.